Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

catching up on poetry

poetry imageEach day of this month I’m writing poetry. (You ought to try it — really. It’s a LOT more fun when you aren’t being graded!) I’m also reading poetry daily — my own, that of others. And whenever April comes, I wonder how these habits got away from me.

Because they feed me. I feel like one of those wrinkled, just-hatched butterflies exiting the chrysalis. Sitting in a kind of poetic sun, growing stronger. I know — pretty metaphorical, huh? But it’s true: poetry is like a tonic to me.


I don’t expect I’ll convert you to writing it, necessarily. But maybe — if we’re both lucky — I’ll remind you how poetry can speak to deep places in you. And how it can even heal them.

So here’s one I love, by Elizabeth Bishop, one of my favourites. It’s a bit sad, but so lovely. And perhaps you need it, as I once did:

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


birthdays, FaceBook, and gifts of love

the author's

the author’s

Today was my birthday. And it’s been one of my nicest yet. My family rolls their eyes when I say this, reminding me I always love my birthday. Which is true.

But today was a bit different, even so. And better for it.

My gifts ranged from phone calls to music to a cartoon portrait to gift cards to a 6-month subscription to free books. I had beignets for brunch (I dearly love beignets!) and Thai noodle soup for dinner.


My gifts were as diverse as my world is. My husband, laid up and a bit too ill to really shop, gave me gift cards to two of my favourite places: Etsy & Kindle. Plus earrings (another fave!). My sons both called — one from Bali, w/ tales of beaches & hostels & adventure. The other w/my grandson in the backseat, calling to me GiGi! GiGi! My elder son had to call me after they arrived home, because Trin kept pointing to the phone & demanding GiGi! Once on FaceTime, he blew me a kiss, and at a scant 2 years (only 23 months!), said quite clearly: I love you. What gift is better than THAT?

courtesy the artist,  Bryan Loftis

courtesy the artist,
Bryan Loftis


A dear girlfriend found me several music videos on YouTube, ensuring I will have new things to listen to this next year. My sister and her daughter, my niece, called to sing a Happy Birthday! duet. Former students sent lovely notes; old friends & colleagues sent best wishes, and one student even drew me the cartoon, right. It even looks like me, as my beloved aunt noted!

In other words? The best of my gifts were the ones that knew ME — music, art, family. Tea & coffee, poetry & bees. My grandson’s I love you is every bit as valuable as the pricey screech owl house my sister & my niece went in on for me. Because each of them is about ME, a link to who I am this year, who I am becoming. As are all the shout-outs from so many friends I don’t f2f any more. FaceBook is its own gift, in many ways.


At one point in my life — perhaps more than one :) — I would have wanted other things, more tangible, perhaps. A trip, maybe. Certainly dinner out. But today’s beignets at my favourite local breakfast place were better than any fancy dinner the city could provide. And the cartoon from my former student — now friend — is every bit as dear as a ‘real’ present (re: in a box, with a ribbon). So was the music, chosen w/ my next listening moments in mind.

the author’s


Yet another present? From someone who doesn’t even realise he gave me a ‘present’ at all? Hector the cat not only came back downstairs, but sat on my desk for a lengthy belly rub. What a gift!

Here’s my point: presents (the best ones) needn’t cost money. Yes, your mother told you that. But it’s true. I would rather have music and a cartoon and a subscription to unlimited books and a screech owl house and phone calls from my loved ones than an expensive cashmere sweater, one of my previously fave gifts. Because there is nothing like offering someone you care about a small piece of you. Honouring them.

Happy Birthday to me. I can’t imagine a better day!



slow, steady, and all that jazz…

the author’s

Hector (our ‘new’ cat) came downstairs! And it’s only taken a scant 6 months!

Seriously — I was wondering if we would always have an ‘upstairs’ cat. He has shown very little interest in exploring downstairs. At least, not while we’re awake.

Since he’s more than 1/2 as large as either of our French bulldogs, it’s not that he can’t hold his own. But one of Hector’s myriad appeals is that he’s a lover — a beta cat, not an alpha. He likes to roll over on his back and have you pet his belly. Fear isn’t a word in his vocabulary. But inertia, and easy-going? Both of those certainly are.


All my (numerous) cat-loving friends assured me, months ago, that Hector would come downstairs and interact. Eventually. But frankly, I gave up months ago, resigned to only being able to visit w/ Hector upstairs, on his terms.

Until today, when he came downstairs, and one of the dogs chased him onto the bar counter. Where he sat for almost 1/2 an hour, surveying the territory. With, I might add, great aplomb.

I’m not patient. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance w/ me will agree — it’s not one of my virtues. So Hector is — as most things that occur in my life are — a metaphor. A reminder to let things unfold in their goodness of their own time. My clock doesn’t necessarily keep the time of others. There is a good reason different cultures carry names for their diverse ways of seeing time and schedules.

Still, I’m hoping that today’s appearance is the beginning of a cat who does venture downstairs — it would be nice to have the big lug sit in my lap while I’m reading, and not just walk on me when I’m trying to sleep. I’m ready. It’s time.


“and if I love myself enough, loving you won’t be so rough”

via pixabay

via pixabay

The quote comes from an old ’70s song; I forget the artist (sorry!). I always liked the sentiment — it’s so very hard to love anyone else if you can’t stand your own self.

And trusting yourself? Even harder. How many of us second-guess our choices, our decisions, our plans? Wondering if we’re screwing up even after we’ve thought things through carefully? Where’s that come from? What’s it about??


Today’s Story People put me in mind of this. If you don’t know Story People, you need to. Here’s the link to today’s drawing & words of wisdom. And here — for those of you who don’t like clicking through — is the great advice: There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling rain and remember it is enough to be taken care of by myself.

Wow. How profound is that? To be that kind to ourselves? How can I delude myself I’m  practicing beginner’s heart if I can’t find it in me to forgive the person I know best of all? What good is the Golden Rule, as I often say, if we don’t love our own selves?


via google

It goes waaay back, this ‘ethos of reciprocity.’ All the Chinese philosophers, the Greeks, the Babylonians even — they call for treating others as you would be treated. It’s a lost art today — or perhaps just a lost value. I hear people wanting their rights respected, when they refuse to recognise the rights of others. I see people insisting on ‘fair treatment’ that privileges them ridiculously. And through it all? All of these people espouse compassion, thinking they are following their wisdom traditions.


There is NO wisdom tradition — no religious belief — that says ‘I’m more important than you are, and I get to treat you poorly.’ Nope, not a one. But it all starts so verrry close to home: with our own fallible selves.

My beginner’s heart is often appalled at how ignorant, opinionated, and judgmental I can be. Ouch! But if I can’t love me anyway, how the heck will I ever learn to tolerate — much less accept — the flawed beings all around me? Human beings, we call them… Not perfect. Not always kind, or compassionate.

But we have to try. We have to continue putting ourselves out there, trying to understand what lies beneath racism, hate, unjust law. Because at the heart of each of these infinitely frustrating human hearts is just that: a human heart. And it has to be worth saving. As our own are. Trust me. And then? Trust yourself. It’s the start of something profoundly important.

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